Saratoga Springs, known for its horse racing, Victorian charm and boutique shopping along Broadway, may soon become a mecca for specialty food shoppers.
Four Seasons Natural Foods, the city’s longtime, locally owned health food store and cafe, is expanding and moving.
Fresh Market, a national gourmet food chain, will open May 15 at Route 50 and Marion Avenue, one mile from downtown.
In March, Healthy Living Market and Cafe, owned by a Vermont family, will mark its first year at Wilton Mall, three miles from town.
“There’s been a ton of change. When we opened, we were the only place where you could buy 90 percent of the products we sold. Now there are a good number of places to buy these things,” says Richard Frank, owner of Four Seasons.
Four Seasons, under the same roof on Phila Street for two decades, will soon be split into two parts. In April, the retail section will open in a new site on Henry Street, near the Hampton Inn, in the former Warren Electric building.
The small cafe on Phila Street, in the heart of downtown, will grow and become a restaurant.
“This is a big thing. We’ve been here for 24 years,” says Frank, a Saratoga Springs resident who describes his business as “old-school natural foods.”
Frank, who employs 25 full- and part-time workers, had been searching for a bigger location for years.
“We’ve gotten close, but this feels good. I just never want to leave downtown. I love downtown.”
Henry Street “is a walk but you can also drive,” he says. “You can’t park [on Phila Street], which has limited our grocery sales.”
image of the past
The one-story, 1950s-era building on Henry Street has been gutted and is now being remodeled. The new, 5,000-square-foot space will have a faux wooden floor, hanging plants and vintage lighting.
“It’s going to have an old-fashioned general store vibe,” says Frank. “We want to be warm. You go to many of the big places and they are not warm.”
The new space, nearly five times bigger, will be better for customers, because more storage space and more refrigerators will allow better pricing, he says.
“We’ll have better presentation of products; of cheeses, local meats.”
Instead of selling only organic produce, Four Seasons will stock conventional produce and increase its local, naturally raised foods. A cooler will be filled with fresh “grab and go” foods, like sandwiches, which will be made on Phila Street.
Outdoors, there will be a garden, picnic tables and more than 20 parking spaces.
From May through October, Frank hopes to attract customers from the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market, a short walk away.
On Phila Street, the new restaurant will have more seats, a bigger kitchen and a visible and accessible juice bar.
In keeping with tradition, the food will still be vegan/vegetarian and served buffet-style.
“We’re not going to do meat,” Frank says.
Eli Lesser-Goldsmith, co-owner of Healthy Living, says the cafe at Wilton Mall has been doing a brisk business.
“Not only has it raised the quality of food at the mall, but it’s an awesome opportunity for busy people on the go to grab dinner, to grab lunch. They stop by, they get sides or they pick up a whole meal or a roasted chicken. We have a full-service kitchen, so we make everything.”
Eli’s mother, Katy Lesser, started Healthy Living in 1986 in a tiny mall store in South Burlington. Today, the company employs 150 people in Burlington and 100 more in Wilton. Eli’s sister, Nina Lesser-Goldsmith, another co-owner, is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute.
The 35,000-square-foot Wilton store is very similar to the Burlington market, which is also in a big mall, Lesser-Goldsmith says.
“Our meat department has expanded in New York. It’s bigger, it has a lot more room and a lot more selection,” he says.
Locally raised and produced goods is also a focus in Saratoga.
“It’s the best selection in upstate New York,” he says.
At Four Seasons, Frank’s loyal customers shouldn’t expect big changes.
“We’re keeping it simple because of our philosophy. It’s about how you feel when you come into a place. You want people to be comfortable and not too high-end,” he says.
Four Seasons started in 1988, owned by Bob and Isabel Landis and located on Broadway in the space now occupied by Wheatfields restaurant. In 1989, it moved to Caroline Street, and a cafe was added. Frank joined the business in 1990, when it moved to Phila Street, and bought it from the couple in 1991.
“When I got into it, there was a counterculture aspect. It’s not counterculture anymore, it’s mainstream,” he says.
“We have gained and lost. But it’s good that people are aware and more into it. People are learning, growing. And competition is good.”
When it comes to competition, Fresh Market is one of the nation’s biggest players in the specialty grocery market, along with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Based in North Carolina, the chain operates 131 stores in 25 states.
The 20,000-square-foot store that’s coming to Saratoga Springs is the third New York store, following markets in Latham and Westchester County.
Fresh Market was founded 30 years ago in Greensboro, N.C., by Ray and Beverly Berry, who liked the idea of smaller, high-end grocery stores, like European markets, that specialize in perishable food. While natural and organic foods are not their main focus, the stores, which are half the size of a typical supermarket, do sell some natural food items.
Healthy Living came to town because the Saratoga area was ready for another natural foods store, Lesser-Goldsmith says.
“We heard it for years, and we responded. We are already drawing people from Glens Falls, Clifton Park. The trade area for this store is almost the same size as for Burlington,” he says.
“We have been accepted into the community in a very genuine way. We’re humbled every day at how great Saratoga and the surrounding communities are.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or email@example.com.